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Justin Pugh keeps taking one for team despite being in contract year

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Where's Justin Pugh?

It's an interesting question these days when trying to find him on the offensive line.

One game he's at left guard, his preferred position and the spot where the New York Giants only wish they could park him permanently. The next he's at right tackle, which is where he started his professional career but where he sometimes lands these days more out of necessity than anything else.

There was even one game -- Week 2 against the Detroit Lions -- in which Pugh started at left guard and moved to right tackle after two snaps when Bobby Hart injured his ankle. Pugh stayed there for the better part of three games before shifting back to left guard. With Hart struggling, there's a chance Pugh might be back at right tackle this week matched against the league's best pass-rusher in Von Miller.

It's a dizzying and trying tale, but it all but sums up Pugh's career with the Giants. He has started 33 games at right tackle, 26 at left guard and one at left tackle since being drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. He earned a game ball for that one start at left tackle in Week 3 of the 2015 season against the Washington Redskins.

He's done it all without a peep.

"That speaks volumes about him," center Weston Richburg said unsolicited several weeks back. "It's his contract year, big year, and he's going out and playing right tackle. That's huge. That says a lot about his character and the kind of guy he is."

Pugh's heard this from more than a few teammates. They appreciate and are impressed with the way he's handled it all, with a smile on his face and without complaints. And he's done it all while playing at a relatively high level.

This season more than most would've been an opportunity for Pugh to voice his displeasure with the back and forth. He remains likely to hit the free-agent market this offseason. Sticking at left guard for 16 games and playing well might have probably been most beneficial for his value given the current price of a Pro Bowl-caliber guard.

Still, he's yo-yo'd between left guard and right tackle without a complaint.

"I think teams will realize that. They'll see what I put on film," Pugh said. "It adds value that I can play tackle at a high level. I'm not really worried about it. I want to go out there and try to get a win because it's miserable not winning games. I pride myself on being a team guy and being able to go out and do what is asked of me. And that is what I continue to do."

There is the possibility that Pugh's versatility could serve as a long-term benefit. Maybe the Giants or another team see more value in him as a guard who can also play tackle. Maybe that earns him a few extra dollars.

Or maybe being viewed as the consummate team player will prove to be an asset when negotiations begin.

"It could help him. He can play guard or tackle," quarterback Eli Manning said. "The more versatile you are ..."

Pugh says he's trying not to think about any of this even though he's asked often. He has other priorities at the moment, especially with the Giants desperate for their first victory of the season and the offensive line resembling a game of musical chairs.

The Giants could start their fifth offensive line combination in six weeks if Pugh slides out to right tackle against the Denver Broncos and center Brett Jones starts in place of the injured Richburg (concussion).

"I want to win games," Pugh said. "Obviously this is a big year for me personally. Obviously, my best position has been at left guard and had my most success at left guard. But whatever gives us the best chance to win, I'm all for it.

"If [coach Ben McAdoo] or [offensive line coach Mike] Solari or [offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan] come to me and ask to go play right tackle, then so be it. That is part of the reason they drafted me, I think."

This attitude has caught the attention of his teammates. But it's hardly a surprise to those who know him best.

"That's honestly who he is as a person," guard John Jerry said. "He isn't going to say much. He's just going to compete. That is what you have to respect about the guy.

"That says a lot about Justin. I don't know how he does it. I don't think anybody knows. Wherever they put him at, he doesn't care, he doesn't complain. He just goes out and gets the job done."

The Giants are aware. It's why they trust him so much to fill any void that appears.

Pugh moved to right tackle in Week 2 despite taking no snaps at the position this summer. They still knew he was there as a contingency plan, just in case.

"Justin is a guy who is a team player first," McAdoo said. "He goes out, he works hard, he brings his lunch pail, and he'll play any position that you ask him to play and won't bat an eye."

Even if it's against the Philadelphia Eagles' Brandon Graham, who was neutralized in a Week 3 matchup. Even if it's in Week 6 against Miller, whom Sullivan said will make even the all-time great tackles struggle.

Pugh always says he's not the prettiest offensive lineman. His technique may not always be the best. But he's going to battle and fight whoever is across the line, and more often than not the results are going to be positive.

This approach hasn't gone unnoticed, especially in a contract year.

"Just a guy who is a warrior. Going to do whatever it takes and whatever the team asks him to do," Manning said. "I do appreciate it, being unselfish and doing what you have to do."